Published on October 7th, 2014 | by Christopher DeMorro

Elon Musk: Tesla Capable of “90% Autopilot” By Next Year

October 7th, 2014 by  

Originally posted on GAS2

EVs are just one part of Elon Musk’s plan to run the auto industry, as the Silicon Valley entrepreneur also wants to lead development of autonomous cars, and in his latest interview Musk says that Tesla will have a car capable of “90% autopilot” as soon as next year.

In the 44-second interview clip from CNNMoney, Musk says that “A Tesla car next year will be 90% capable of autopilot.” Musk clarifies that he means that 90% of your daily driven highway miles can be handled by the car alone. This is an even more aggressive timeline than Musk’s previous statements, which indicated such technology was still three or four years out.

However, we’ve seen the recent addition of some low-level autonomous driving features Teslas made since mid-September. This include a lane departure warning and speed assist system that lets you know when you’re going over the speed limit, though a hidden menu hints that blind spot monitoring may be on the way soon as well.

Other automakers are working to make self-driving cars a reality, but their timelines are a lot less aggressive. Musk apparently sees autonomous driving technology as a cornerstone to 21st century driving, but companies like Mercedes and Audi don’t see driverless features as making many inroads before 2020. One study even says fully autonomous cars won’t arrive till 2030 at the soonest.

Of course this is Elon Musk we’re talking about, the man who made a viable electric car company when others said it couldn’t possibly be done. Don’t ever doubt this dude when he says something can be done, because Musk is shoving the entire auto industry forward with his ideas of how an electric car should be. And if Tesla can’t become a leader in autonomous cars? “Shame on us,” says Musk.

It seems he might hold more than a little contempt for the status quo, and if he can build a better car, why shouldn’t he?


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About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he's running, because he's one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.



  • NRG4All

    Distracted driving is bad enough already. I would think that removing more processes from the human will just intensify distractions, i.e. texting, phone calls, etc. I’m all for Tesla and am saving my pennies for when my current LEAF lease is up in 2017. But, it seems another complication if a Tesla gets into a collision, they may be named in the “who’s to blame” proceedings. I hope they have it figured out because many an ambulance chaser will go after any “deep pockets” they can find.

  • StepInTime

    Has anyone actually done an in depth survey beyond some urban area if this is even wanted? I don’t know anyone who’s interested, with the exception of people figuring they wouldn’t need a cab when they drank too much, of letting a vehicle drive for them. Personally, I’m not a fan either. It’s just another area where control is taken over peoples lives and a reduction in responsibility is implemented furthering the mentality that people need to be taken care of. While urban dwellers may be the real target market for this tech, aren’t they (generally) already being serviced by mass transit and taxis to a large extent? Will livery businesses be able to use them to pick up and drop off people? Does autopilot really make it a better car? Is it really still a car then?

    • Bob_Wallace

      I live very non-urban. It’s a 7 mile RT on an unpaved road to my mailbox. Not to the Post Office, but to the box where the post-person drops my mail. It’s a ~120 mile RT to the grocery store.

      I’d frigging love a self-driving car. I’ve been a sports car owner much of my driving life and loved to blast along winding roads. But with all the increased traffic, straightened roads and police radar that fun is largely gone away. Now driving is mostly a bore. Get to the highway and line up behind another car for a couple of hours or inch along in stop and go traffic.

      I drove from the West Coast to the East Coast just after the first of the year. I’d love to have been able to kick back and look at the scenery rather than the tail end of the car in front of me.

      ” Is it really still a car then?”

      I bet someone asked that question when electric starters began replacing cranks. ;o)

    • Philip W

      There are a lot of people like business-men that spend a lot of time on the road. Now imagine they can check their emails or do whatever while crusing down the highway. This will be a blessing for them.
      Or think about truck drivers, they will be able do some other jobs while driving and potentially make more money than before.
      Or just enjoying the scenery like Bob mentionend.
      Endless possibilities, just think outside the box.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m just thinking about how much the collision avoidance and adaptive cruise control will cut down on traffic accidents.

        We’re talking serious insurance savings, both for the cars and for our bodies.

        • Philip W

          That´s another good point.
          And when all the cars on a highway are selfdriving, they can all drive the exact same speeds so there will be no more traffic jams and everyone reaches it´s destination faster.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Also, self driving cars (adaptive cruise control and self-braking) will be able to safely drive with less space between cars. More cars on the same amount of roadway without increased congestion.

            And energy saved with less stop and go stuff. A slow but steady cruise through heavily trafficked areas.

            Perhaps when systems are perfected we’ll see safe drafting on highways, another energy saver.

          • Hayden

            Bob, I’m thinking that in 15 or twenty years from now, personal transportation will have been turned on it’s head. Unrecognisable from what we see today. This will come about as the result of converging technologies.

            1. Automomous electric cars will be the norm.

            2. Car sharing, where you can have the choice of whichever vehicle you choose, anytime you like. And pay only for the time that you use it. (Probably no insurance will be needed) You will be able to call it up on your GPS enabled watch, it will arrive to pick you up, and when your done, it will go on to the next customer.

            Research shows that for every person in a car sharing club, a very large number (I have forgotten the numbers) of vehicles need to be produced.

            3. There will be no traffic congestion. Anywhere. Cars will travel in a convoy, maybe a meter apart, at the correct speed limit. Co-ordination with traffic signals will wave them thru.

            Car parking stations will almost not be needed.

            Traffic police will have little to do.

            Car insurance will be minimal.

            Everything will have been turned on its head.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I also think that’s the general direction we’re headed. The details will be refined as we go along.

            Cars will be something that pick us up where we are and drop us off where we want to go. Some will find no need for ownership, but will treat cars more like taxis.

            Cities won’t be jammed full of cars. People will be dropped off and the car will go on to serve someone else or take itself to a remote parking spot if not needed.

            If we move to self-driving EVs and design them for hard use and easy refurbishing we should find the cost of riding very reasonable.

            Of course it’s hard to accurately predict the future….

          • The urban density, topography of the district, local government road planning. It’s not the Battle of Waterloo for the ICE but similar.

  • GCO

    90% of your daily driven highway miles

    Aha, that’s very different than what the headline suggests.

    So… just like super-cruise then?
    Sure it’s nice to have the car maintain speed and distance with the car in front, and stays in its lane, but it’s hardly revolutionary. And as long as the drivers remains legally responsible for the car’s movements, not very useful.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Super-cruise/adaptive speed cruise. Ability to self-steer within marked lanes. Collision avoidance, including automated braking (probably if the driver does not respond or responds inadequately).

      I would expect self-parking as well.

      Drive from your garage to a well maintained road (clear lane lines) and let the car do the routine driving.

      I spent a few years cruising around on a sail boat. Adding an autopilot that would hold the course and let me do things other than stand at the wheel, watching the compass was wondrous. I’ve sailed for 2-3 days in a row doing nothing to the boat other than minor sail trimming. I’d love to turn driving over to the car and be able to enjoy the scenery on trips.

      And I’d love a car that could look into the shadows to see the deer that’s about to cross the road in front of me. I almost smacked into a fawn a couple days ago when it suddenly decided that it had right of way.

  • Jouni Valkonen

    Mercedes S class is already capable for 90 % autopiloting if the local law allows autopilot feature. Tesla still has lot to catch up with other car manufacturers who have routinely tested autopilot on highway and city traffic conditions.

    At this point it would be nice if Tesla could put together some advanced driver aids such as adaptive cruise control, autoparking, collision avoidance and detection of pedestrians on driveway.

    • mlhoheisel

      Tesla does have some catching up to do. We’ll see how far they go. Mercedes S class can’t pass, can’t merge, can’t exit based on preset destinations, requires hands on the wheel to operate.
      It would be nice to see somebody try complete autonomy but only in very restricted circumstances like auto valet park, only in parking lots the system recognizes as approved.

      • GCO

        FWIW, Honda demonstrated auto valet parking last year, with, interestingly, cameras installed on the lot so cars don’t have to circle the whole area to find an available spot.
        http://www.autoblog.com/2013/10/26/honda-autonomous-valet-parking-system-video/

      • Jouni Valkonen

        Why Mercedes S Class cannot do autopilot, is because autopilot is disabled. But all necessary sensors are in place. The problem mostly is that although S Class can handle more than 90 % of situations, it may still struggle with the remaining 10 %.

  • Marion Meads

    It is either a “0” or a “1” and nothing in between, as far as computer bit logic goes. 90% is still not whole and therefore doesn’t make the mark for safety when lives are at stake. It is not good enough, it must be 100% capable before release.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The car will have 90% of the capabilities of a fully driverless car. That, to me, is pretty danged amazing.

      Why do you have such white hot heat aimed at Tesla?

      • GCO

        So please help us quantify, e.g:
        How much percentage is maintaining speed?
        How much percentage is switching gears, if applicable?
        How much percentage is maintaining direction?
        How much percentage is avoiding all the other cars?
        How much percentage is looking at road signs and signals?
        How much percentage is deciding what turn to take?
        How much percentage is paying attention and properly responding to unusual events, like that moron suddenly crossing the street or merging into your lane?

        By itself, “90% of the capabilities” is meaningless.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Perhaps it’s 90% of miles driven. From when you get out of your driveway and onto a well marked road until it’s time to make a turn to a new road.

          But in the case of your list, I don’t think EVs come with clutches so we can rule out gear shifting.

          Deciding which turn to take. That might be a GPS controlled function. Now or later. The driver would have to input the destination or do that work ‘live’.

          Keeping in the proper lane. Maintaining speed relative to speed limits and traffic. Collision avoidance. That might be where 90% of the work is done in driving to Grandma’s house for Turkey Day.

    • No way

      I think you don’t really understand what this means. 90% of the total miles, but for example 100% of the highway miles. So it’s not driverless but if you drive it up onto the highway then it can drive for you until you need to get off the highway.
      So for me if would mean a comfy 5 hour nap when visiting some of my relatives (well, I’d probably spend most time doing other things than taking a nap but you get the point).

    • Joseph Dubeau

      Why would anyone buy a expensive sport car only to have someone else drive it?
      It sure is funny what some rich folks spend their money on. 😉

      • Bob_Wallace

        What? You can’t afford a chauffeur?

        Who hands you the Grey Poupon when you desire a little zip on your burger?

    • Offgridman

      Google dream car, top speed 25 mph, Tesla autopilot, top speed 65, 70, whatever the posted speed limit that it self reads by itself along with monitoring the actions of the accompanying vehicles.
      And if you would bother to read the articles and not just the titles, you would realize that even the Google dream cars in order to be on California roads require a driver with the capability to take over. Which is why the self driven ones are only being utilized on the Google campus at this time.
      So real practical usage on US or state highways, Tesla 90% of the time. Usage by Google cars? Only in test situations, or in off road simulations.
      Feel free to hate on Tesla all you want Ms Meads, and please continue to explain your fantasy situations where vehicles from other manufacturers are superior, I need the smiles.

      • GCO

        It doesn’t compare at all indeed. Google’s car can actually drive itself. On congested city roads, observing traffic lights and all. I’ve seen it at speed on the highway as well, although I can’t tell to what extent the person inside was controlling anything then.

        Tesla hasn’t demonstrated anything yet, and for all we know, what Musk calls “90% autopilot” before quickly adding “on daily driven highways” might be nothing more than adaptive cruise control + following lane markings and/or the preceding car, and if we’re lucky some auto-braking as form of collision avoidance/mitigation.
        Basically, nothing other manufacturers haven’t done already.

        • Offgridman

          “It doesn’t compare at all indeed”, exactly my point to Ms Meads. The Google dream cars she refers to are autonomous glorified enclosed golf carts that are not allowed on the roads and still are required the ability for a human to take over. California legislator required the addition of steering wheels and braking able to be controlled by a human for the off road testing to proceed on the Google campus and other locations.
          The Google test vehicles that you have seen are only allowed autonomous driving at speeds below 35 mph, if you have seen one driving highway speeds, it is a person doing it or Google is seriously violating their test mandates. So next year Tesla will have vehicles able to drive themselves 90% of the time on the highway (like other manufacturers) in real commercial application. While Google will carry on with their test vehicles, that still require the ability of a human to take over, searching for the perfection of the autonomous vehicle, yet still many years from any commercial application.
          For now I will be happy to accept the 90% capabilities of Tesla and other manufacturers. And in the future when Google perfects their 100% autonomous vehicles will be just as happy to adopt them. But no one can use the 100% vehicles until they are actually being sold until that time we take what we can get.
          The humorous part is that Ms Meads constantly criticizes Tesla and their current achievements by comparing with possible future accomplishments. She is never able to find a currently available product that is superior, so I continue to smile every time I see her posts.

          • GCO

            Let me get this right: on one hand you’re dismissing Google (and/or others) because of legally imposed restrictions, like the maximum speed allowed while fully autonomous, or the requirement for the occupant to be able to take control.

            On the other, you believe that Tesla, which has demonstrated nothing so far (or did I miss something?) and merely catches up by introducing warning systems already common-place in similar cars, will be able to do let you take your eyes off the road at highway speed next year?
            All while being subjected to the exact same regulations, of course?

            If this is indeed the case, I think the Ms Mead you deride has a much firmer grasp on reality than you.
            At any rate, 2015 is right around the corner, we’ll know soon enough.

          • Offgridman

            Apologies if my comments seem misleading, perhaps I shouldn’t try to post when the aches and pains wake me up in the middle of the night.
            My reply to Ms Meads is with the understanding that the majority of the time that she shows up here it is to criticize Tesla. (to the best of my knowledge)
            Now her original comment said that the 90% autonomous driving by Tesla (or other manufacturers as you point out) is of absolutely no value because the Google golf carts can drive around without any human input.
            So even with the updates that Tesla has added this year such as lane control, GPS speed monitoring, and nearby vehicle monitoring, these are totally useless because of what Google may make available someday but cannot be used commercially right now.
            Yes it will be great when totally autonomous driving is available, and I will gladly use it. But it isn’t right now, all Google is doing is testing, and all of that testing still requires a human monitor. So what is available right now from Tesla and the other manufacturers is the best we can get right now, so I am gladly using it.
            But Ms Meads says that autonomous driving is all or nothing, like a computer aught or nothing, I believe she put it. So the assistance that is now available from Tesla and the other manufacturers has no value. I just don’t see it that way, with the other crazy drivers on the roads I am willing to take whatever assistance is available at this time. And as that assistance and control improves in the future will be glad to utilize it, when it is available in commercial vehicles, whether from Google, Tesla, or some other manufacturer.

  • Kyle Field

    Good on him 🙂 Love Elon’s vision and commitment to making it a reality in all areas (EVs, Solar, Space eXploration)

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